|RESUMES WIN INTERVIEWS, BUT REFERENCES WIN JOB OFFERS
by Terra L. Dourlain,
President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc.
Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds are more inquiring than those about to
hire you. Rest assured, you will be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the better
the job, the higher the pay, - the tougher the screening process. If you are up
for a good job at a visible company your references will be checked in great detail.
Be aware that your list of references is simply the beginning of the investigation
a prospective employer will conduct.
When a prospective employer has completed the first round of interviews and you
are in the group of top candidates, the next logical step is to check your references
and interview those individuals to whom you reported. Are you certain your these
individuals will seal the deal or will they blow it away? If you are like most people
you probably haven't given your references much thought. Instead you have focused
on your resume, interview skills, networking and what to wear to the interview.
Now the focus shifts. Your biggest concern should be the quality of your references
and recommendations from past employers, because they can make or break your chances.
About half of all references that get checked, according to Terra Dourlain, Managing
Director of Allison & Taylor Reference Checking Inc., range from mediocre to poor.
So it is very possible that the great job you lost out on at the last moment had
nothing to do with your lack of skills, or being overqualified. It could have had
more to do with what one of your references or past employers said about you. So
if you are concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap, there
is a one in two chance that you are right. That's a frightening scenario when your
livelihood is at stake.
Here is just a sampling of the comments HR people and line managers hear when they
check references: "Our company policy prohibits us saying anything. All we are able
to do is verify dates of employment and title." Then they have gone on to say things
like, "Check his references very, very carefully." Other common conversations include:
"Are you certain he gave my name as a reference?"; "Although we are currently in
litigation..."; "We miss him very much."; "After we settle our lawsuit"; "Let me
see what the paperwork says I am able to give out regarding ______."; or they seem
very surprised and make other innuendoes such as: "Is he still in this field?"
References and past employers won't call and warn you that they are not going to
be complimentary. With company policies changing (not that many choose to follow
them anyway), new employees in HR Departments, new laws concerning references, company
liability when they give references, the reference situation is ever changing and
is therefore very volatile. So, you are well advised to take more control of your
career momentum by finding out just what every potential reference will say about
you. If the odds hold, as they will, those references will range from stellar all
the way on down; yet when you know who is going to say what about you, you can pass
on your best references with greater confidence. Plus you will have the opportunity
to stop references saying things that are not true. Here are ten winning ways to
utilize your references:
I. Make a list. Start by making a list of all of your prospective references. Begin
with the first job that is relevant in management of your career today. You need
to select those who have carefully observed your job performance. Your references
need to have seen you in action, hopefully performing well in adverse conditions.
But beware, whether you list them or not, your past employers will be contacted.
Be sure to gather all important contact data about every potential reference including:
Name; Title; Company; Address; Telephone Number; Fax Number; e-mail Address. Other
individuals that may prove to be useful as references include: Colleagues; Subordinates;
Suppliers & Clients; Volunteer Committees; Pro Bono Clients.
II. Narrow the list. After you have made your list of references, select those that
you feel will be most willing to give you an excellent report. A typical list of
references should include five to ten names, depending on the amount of experience
a candidate has accumulated.
III. Set up a meeting. It is very advisable to meet with each reference personally
if possible. At the very least send them a note stating that you are job hunting
and would like to use them as a reference, or call them. Be sure to share with them
your current resume and let them know of the position you are applying for as well
as the type of qualities the company is seeking. Give them the impression that their
reference is critical to your obtaining the job.
IV. Confirm your personal information. Refresh their memory regarding the position
you held, go over your past responsibilities, remind them of solid results you gave
the company. It is not a bad idea to visit the HR Department and verify that all
information in your personnel file is correct. Go over with each reference what
they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses.
V. Conduct a personal exit interview. Go over with each reference what they will
say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses. You should
try to learn what your references are going to say about you. Do not take things
personally, be upbeat. During the conversation update them on what you are doing,
and how you have been adding experience and turning old weaknesses into new strengths.
If they feel you are aware of your own weaknesses it may lead them to say you are
open-minded and that you strive to grow professionally. One of the key skills in
the workplace is effective communications. Your reference will feel comfortable
stating you are a good communicator if you have filled them in on who, why, what
VI. Be prepared ahead of time. It pays to take the time early in your job search
to identify and prepare your references. The last thing you want to happen is to
lose out on a good position because you did not have your references prepared. You
can even use your references as very effective networking tools, mention that you
are currently seeking a new position and wondered if they would mind if you used
their name as a reference. Tell them what you have been doing since the last time
you worked with them. Not only is this the courteous thing to do it also keeps them
updated on your career. Any reference that is well informed about the progression
of your career, will be a much better reference. Ask them if they know of any current
job openings in your field.
VII. Communicate with your references. When a specific offer is on the horizon let
your references know the company, and that you will be using them as a reference
with. When you advise them of the company name they feel comfortable giving out
information about you or return the call in a more timely fashion.
VIII. Follow-up with your reference. When you get your new position, make sure you
call them and advise them of your new position. Keep them posted about your career,
when and if you need them in the future, they will feel warm about you.
IX. Attention to detail. Always check to be sure of the correct telephone number,
area code & company name when giving out references. With today's mergers and other
technology changes things are changing daily. Should you list an incorrect telephone
number, or if a reference has taken a position elsewhere, it looks as though you
are totally out of touch with your references.
X. Check your references. Why leave it to chance. If you are not 100% convinced
that your references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to
prospective employers, then check them out. a professional employment verification
and reference checking firm can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with
the critical information and evidence that has been blocking your job searching